Take a look at your physical therapy cover letter. Is it boring? Does it accomplish what you want? Do you even USE one?
Writing a physical therapy cover letter can feel entirely daunting. If you’re not a writer, you might spend hours agonizing over the process of getting every single word right. This can cause you to spend tons of time on a single application for a physical therapy job, while you might be wise to send out applications to 2-3 jobs at a time.
The mere thought of writing a cover letter might make you cringe so viscerally that you become tempted to simply avoid using one altogether. Cover letters are rarely “required” during the job application process.
Your cover letter is the first bit of personal information that your potential employer sees about you. It conveys how seriously you’re taking the job application process, your ability to communicate, and how thoroughly you have researched the position and company before you applied.
This article aims to help you put together the ideal physical therapy cover letter for whatever job you want.
Why should I write a physical therapy cover letter?
A physical therapy cover letter is your first chance to make an impression on a potential employer, outside of your resume. Your resume may be impressive, but if you're just starting out or changing settings, you might have less experience than other candidates. Your opportunity to stand out lies in a cover letter that conveys your passion, work ethic, and potential to help grow the department in a positive way.
Your cover letter is also an opportunity to showcase your communication skills. Don't make rookie mistake's like confusing possessives with plurals! 😉
Before you compose your letter, make sure to prepare and understand the company/clinic you'd like to join. Read as much as you can about the workplace, including the corporate mission and culture.
If you’re answering a simple Craigslist ad with minimal information, make note of what the ad does say. Is it a “busy outpatient clinic looking for an energetic team player”? If so, you may want to point out in your cover letter that you’re enthusiastic and passionate about maintaining quality care in high-volume settings.
If you’re applying to a large hospital system, read the mission statement and make note of the terminology they use. If the mission statement is “To heal, comfort, and promote health in the communities we serve,” consider mentioning that you like to provide comfortable and nurturing treatment sessions where the patient feels they are in healing hands.
How should I structure my physical therapy cover letter?
A good physical therapy cover letter should be no longer than one page long. This means 4-5 paragraphs, maximum: let’s go with 4 for our purposes.
When it comes to the tone of your cover letter, a good rule of thumb is to follow the ad to which you’re responding. If it’s a short, matter-of-fact ad, echo that tone (with some added friendliness) in your cover letter. If the ad is 2 pages long, with multiple lists of qualifications and certifications, take a little extra time to ensure you mention areas that you fit the bill.
Use the first paragraph to introduce yourself
Your first paragraph should serve as an introduction, where you state your interest in the physical therapy position and include how you heard about it. Employers put a lot of time and thought into creating the job post and getting the word out about the open position, so be sure to acknowledge exactly how you heard about the position.
Consider the clinic culture. If it’s a small clinic with a casual attitude, a simple “Hi!” or “Hello” may do. Western states are notoriously more casual than most, but don’t make the mistake of being too casual with a potential employer. It is always better to err on the side of being too formal, rather than too casual. Please avoid using a “Sup bro” intro, unless you are comfortable having your application sent straight to the trash! A large corporation may respond better to “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Rehab Manager.” While some folks like "To Whom it May Concern," we feel like that sounds a bit confrontational!
When you introduce yourself in the cover letter, keep it brief. Don’t launch into your life story, your physical therapy credentials and your general awesomeness right away. Instead, keep it simple.
Your introduction conveys that you CAREFULLY read the job description and understand what is involved in the role . . . and that you’re still interested in the position.
Demonstrate your strengths, experience, and fit for the position in the middle paragraphs
These two paragraphs are the meat and potatoes of your cover letter.
This is the place to address the aspects of business that are most important to the employer (per the job description) and show how you can both add value and solve the business’ problems. The physical therapy cover letter is important for both you and your potential employer.
It helps the hiring manager because it conveys to them that you understand the specific needs or problem that the organization is facing—the very needs that are leading them to hire a new physical therapist.
Perhaps even more importantly, writing the cover letter will help you hone in on whether this role truly is right for you. While composing these paragraphs, you might wrinkle your nose and think, “Oh my gosh, I’m applying to a physical therapy patient mill!” Or, you might think to yourself, “Thank goodness, I was getting so bored at my last clinic because I saw the same diagnosis every single day.”
Include thanks and contact information
Make sure to thank the person reading the letter for their time, that you include all relevant information about when you’re available to chat, reiterate that you are very excited about the role, and provide your phone number, email address, and that you’d love the opportunity to schedule a call or meeting to discuss the opportunity in more detail. For example:
“If you agree that I would be a good fit for your team, please contact me anytime at (phone) or (email). Thank you very much, in advance, for your consideration. I hope to hear from you soon.”
Don't dismiss the signature!
How you sign your letter tells a lot about your attitude. “Sincerely” is a term often used by an older crowd, but I usually use that signature in my own letters, as it sets me apart (and is probably the only classy thing about me). Avoid “Cheers,” “Best,” or "Thanks," as they can be a bit casual. “Best Regards” is always a good bet for hospital systems, and “With Gratitude” might work for a yoga clinic.
How to take your physical therapy cover letter to the next level
Research the organization and position
Researching and writing the physical therapy cover letter is helpful in two ways:
- You will unearth all kinds of information about the organization. You will learn about the practice philosophy, department’s mission, patient mix, and types of therapy provided. You can also learn more about the parent organization (if you’re applying to a department of a larger organization).
- What you learn can help you answer the very important question you should always ask while you job search: “Does all of this information align with my goals?”
Look at this small investment of time upfront as a way to potentially save a lot of time that would otherwise be wasted pursuing something that isn’t what you’re looking for.
But remember that, conversely, the job can be better than expected, and detailed knowledge that you gain during this process will be advantageous as the relationship moves forward.
Clearly communicate your interest
Do you like treating an underserved population? Are you passionate about vestibular physical therapy? Were you a patient at the same clinic years earlier? Do you like the small staff size? Mention specifically what it is about the clinic that attracted your interest.
This is also the section where you offer your sincerest (and most specific) flattery, as that can show that you’ve done your homework and actually want this job. Did the hospital win awards for trauma or stroke care? Mention those awards! Is the clinic active in community outreach? Is it a women’s health leader in the community? Mention these things, particularly if they're part of what attracted your interest to the clinic! The last thing a busy clinic director wants to do is waste time on a disinterested candidate.
Understand what the organization needs
Physical therapy private practice owners, multi-chain clinics, and large hospital corporations have one thing in common: they all have a mission or brand that represents their philosophy. If they don’t have one, it can be a red flag that the organization is coasting along without much focus or purpose.
If the leadership has done its job, you should be able to identify those values and brands by looking at the organization’s website, press releases, and overall presence. Some of examples include:
- “Pediatric care for underserved populations”
- “Cutting edge sports rehabilitation and training programs”
- “A nurturing, caring, place to regain function”
Regardless of what the brand is, make sure that you address how your experience will directly link to their needs.
For example, your section that identifies the clinic’s “problems” could include the following (as a list or in paragraph form, just make sure your letter doesn’t exceed one page):
- Opportunity to practice patient-focused physical therapy, working with an underserved population.
- Significant potential for growth in the San Diego, CA region.
- Exposure to business and management aspects of a physical therapy clinic.
- Opportunity to practice in a fast-paced, high volume clinic, where I will be able to treat a wide variety of impairments.
- Ability to float into your neuro rehab physical therapy program and learn more about a new specialty of PT.
- Location and proximity to the best outdoor recreation opportunities in the country. (If you have family ties to the area, mention them! But if all you want to do is surf and escape your crazy ex, keep it general.)
Writing this section will definitely help crystallize whether or not you truly want this job.
How to sell yourself in your cover letter
Demonstrate how you are the solution to the clinic's needs
The answer of how you sell yourself is often found in the ad itself. Many job advertisements are quite specific about what they need, and which can make writing a cover letter much easier. Unfortunately, many of the physical therapy job postings out there can be pretty nonspecific and vague.
I bet you've seen some iteration of the following job description posted at least a few times:
“We need a friendly, energetic physical therapist to work M-F 8:30-5 at busy outpatient physical therapy clinic in downtown San Diego.”
Well! That doesn’t really help you much!
However, you can put yourself in the shoes of the employer and focus on why they are hiring. If they are busy, maybe they are looking to expand evening and weekend hours. Maybe they want to expand some of their practice to include pelvic floor physical therapy or vestibular physical therapy. Your potential employer might be looking for someone to manage their social media platforms and cultivate an online presence. The point is to do your best to sell yourself as the obvious pick for this position, no matter what your experience level is.
You can always play up your personality traits, if you really don't have professional experience that matches the job description. Are you professional, punctual, easygoing, hard-working, friendly, caring or devoted? A little research can tell you if the employers value one-on-one time with patients or using cutting edge treatments.
Often, you can get clues from a company's website that tell you about their practice philosophies or how active they are in community service. Try to connect on those levels. If you truly can't find an area where you feel you can build a connection, make sure to mention a quality that will enhance their practice. For example, if you have been told that you always have a smile on your face, state that you're someone who will always arrive at the office with a smile.
Explain how you add value
Writing this section of the cover letter is also your chance to say, “This is how I can help you.” This is where you can pull the most impressive and unique components of your resume/CV into your pitch about yourself.
In order to do so, you have to have done impressive and unique things! Luckily, almost everyone has experiences that make them shine.
For example, if you’ve worked in a hospital based physical therapy outpatient department, but you’re applying for a private practice role, highlight what you DO have. “My experience working for Awesome Hospital has enabled me to treat patients with many different diagnoses, while enjoying a strong mentorship program from a team of specialist clinicians.”
An outpatient ortho clinic will be pumped that you’ve already been groomed, trained, and mentored, and you can hit the ground running.
If you’re making the opposite transition, you can say, “My experience working for Smaller Outpatient Clinic has allowed me to cultivate a deep understanding of flexibility in clinic flow, effective communication, time management, and modified treatments for unique diagnoses.”
An employer can read between the lines and think, “This person is used to high volume situations and won’t freak out if a patient arrives at the wrong time.” Managers have to manage, so the easier you make their jobs, the better you look.
Examine your resume and work out how to highlight experiences that increase your value. While you might not be able to pinpoint the exact roles where the employer wants to improve, explaining how you can be a great addition in a hypothetical situation can work wonders.
Maybe you can start an autism support club! Maybe you can launch a blog!
A word of wisdom, though: Ensure you’ve done the work on understanding the logistics first. You can be the best physical therapist ever, but if you don’t have the marketing and entrepreneurial skills to make your promises come to life in the role, you might be a bit of a let down.
What if you're a new grad physical therapist?
Pinpointing the value that you bring to a position can be tough, especially for a new grad physical therapist, who likely doesn’t have a lot of experience, much less the practice management skills of a more seasoned clinician. But don’t despair! You can always bring value to a physical therapy clinic, no matter how green you are. It’s all in how you sell yourself.
Start by following some of our tips for writing a fantastic new grad physical therapist resume.
As far as the cover letter goes, as noted above, you can leverage your social media connections to attract the attention of patients and other clinicians. You can also play up unique clinicals, where you were able to pick up skills that a normal new graduate physical therapist might not possess.
Don’t forget to frame potential weaknesses as strengths.
We all know the one thing all new grad PTs lack: experience. Luckily, you can spin this to your advantage; new grads also have fewer bad habits that need to be broken when adjusting to a new job.
For example, I was a new graduate physical therapist at a hospital based outpatient clinic, and the month I started, the entire staff was in a tizzy over the fact that they were moving from paper to electronic documentation. Everyone was SO STRESSED! Not me, though. I didn’t know anything different, so I was able to join the team and pick up the software easily, as I didn’t know anything else. This left me extra time to focus on what I needed to learn: patient care!
Another unique offering of new PTs: an understanding of the latest treatment options and generally more flexibility with hours.
Remember, it’s up to you to present your selling points. New grads need to essentially say, “I’m independent but can be trained and coached.” Hiring managers are looking for physical therapists who can operate autonomously, but are receptive to mentoring and learning opportunities. Basically, they want you to treat in a way that aligns with their practice goals and they want to trust that you won’t go rogue.
Along with adaptability is the offer to work your tail off. You might not have seen what another PT has seen in her 15 years of practice, but you can almost certainly work harder. You’re a hungry new grad! It helps when you have examples on your resume that show that you’ve gone above and beyond in the past. Make sure that you illustrate those experiences!
One last note about the physical therapy cover letter . . .
There’s no such thing as the “perfect physical therapy cover letter” formula; even if there were, it would be ineffective, because everyone would use it. But there are still leaps and bounds between a crummy cover letter and one that will almost guarantee you an interview.
The recipe is simple: research to understand your potential employer, understand your experiences and strengths and relate them to how you will solve your potential employer’s problems. Show enthusiasm and passion for physical therapy and make sure to get a trusted friend or colleague to read your letter for grammatical and spelling errors.
You’ve got this.
Wondering what to expect in your PT job as a new graduate? Read our "New Grad Physical Therapist" report for answers to all of your questions!